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Next-Generation MCAS Test Information for Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA)

Beginning in spring 2017, students in grades 3-8 will take newly redesigned MCAS tests in English Language Arts (ELA). This document describes the new test designs, question types, and other information related to the new ELA tests.

The next-generation tests in ELA will include items developed specifically for MCAS, as well as items developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

The tests include both operational items, which count toward a student's score, as well as matrix items. The matrix portion of the test consists of field-test and equating questions that do not count toward a student's score.

In September, the Department released a full testing schedule. including recommended session times, for the 2016-17 school year.

In addition to multiple-choice questions, the next-generation ELA tests will include questions that assess writing at all grades, as well as technology-enhanced questions for students taking computer-based tests.

*All students in grades 3-8 will write a narrative essay in 2017. In 2018 and beyond, this essay will be presented in one of three modes (narrative, literary analysis, or research), which will vary by grade. The literary analysis and research essays will be scored for reading comprehension as well as writing.

Students taking the paper-based test will write their essays in their Test and Answer Booklet (grade 3) or Student Answer Booklet (grades 4-8). The total amount of space provided for student responses on the paper-based test is:

  • Narrative Essay—two pages at grade 3 and four pages at grades 4-8
  • Text-Based Essays—one page at grades 3-5 and two pages at grades 6-8

On the computer-based test, students will type their responses into response boxes that provide a similar amount of space. For example, the response box for the Narrative Essay at grade 3 provides a total space that is equivalent to about two pages; the response box for Text-Based Essays at grade 3 provides a total space that is equivalent to about one page. The response boxes are of fixed size. As students type their response, a scroll bar will appear. Students will be able to use the scroll bar to review everything they have written. Item-level directions will indicate the amount of space provided for each response.

The Department is developing practice tests that will give students the opportunity to practice using the response boxes and item-level directions. The practice tests are targeted for release this winter.

The Department will release the rubrics for the short-response questions, narrative essay, and text-based essays this winter.

On the operational portion of the test, students will read three passage sets and answer the associated questions; each passage set will include a single passage or a passage pairing.

Number of
2-point Questions
(Multiple-choice or technology-enhanced)

In addition to operational questions, students will take a matrix (field test and equating) portion of the test, which will vary by grade:

  • Students in grades 3-4 will read one additional passage set (single or pairing), respond to eight questions (one or two-point) and write either two short response questions or one text-based essay.
  • Students in grade 5 will read one additional passage set (single or pairing), respond to eight questions (one or two-point), and write one one-page text-based essay.
  • Students in grades 6-8 will read one additional passage set (single or pairing), respond to eight questions (one or two-point), and write one two-page text-based essay.

Conference calls: The Department will host conference calls focused specifically on the new test designs in early December; the calls will be announced via our website and our student assessment email update.

Practice tests: Practice tests for all grades are scheduled to be available in January. The practice tests will include examples of the various item types for both the paper-based and computer-based tests.

More information: Please contact Student Assessment Services (781-338-3625; mcas@doe.mass) with any questions.

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